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Praying well

August 2015 | by Ian McNaughton

Christians serious about prayer desire to pray in a way that brings assurance to the soul and receives answers from God. The child’s song says — and the Christian Scriptures teach — that ‘the prayers go up and the blessings come down’.

How important prayer is to the life of believers and churches! It remains true that prayer is the hand that touches Christ’s garment and is the evidence of a living soul and quickened spirit.

Believing prayer

Prayer is the native air of all who believe. It remains, however, for many a paradox. As Oswald J. Sanders notes: ‘No spiritual exercise is such a blessing of complexity and simplicity’.

Believing prayer connects the Christian with all three persons of the Holy Trinity: the Father, because of the believer’s sonship; the Son, by mystical union through faith; and the Holy Spirit, who gives an inner witness in the soul following conversion (Romans 8:15-27; 1 John 4:2). It must be made in faith and in the name of Jesus Christ to be heard by our Father God.

John Bunyan defines prayer like this: ‘The Spirit by the Word directs in the manner as well as the matter of prayer [and is] the helper and governor of the soul when it [sic] prays according to the will of God; so it guides by and according to the Word of God and his promises’ (Prayer; Banner of Truth, pp. 23ff).

What makes true prayer powerful with God is when it is ‘according to the Word of God and his promises’. Christians must keep praying and claiming the promises of God with an open Bible in their hands.

In days of spiritual declension like today, there is great need for committed intercession. Let us remember that our Saviour said, ‘Ask and it will be given to you’ (Luke 11:9). This particular promise is developed by Jesus in John 14 and John 16.

Christ’s activity

It is important to ask in Christ’s name. At least three things are implied by this phrase. First, asking in Christ’s name continues Christ’s activity.

‘Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to my Father. And whatever you ask in my name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it’ (John 14:13-14).

Jesus speaks here of the ongoing work of the gospel: ‘The works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do’ (14:12). His followers will accomplish works of power through faith and self-sacrifice. Christian ministry is the continuation of Christ’s ministry here on earth; it is kingdom work, eternal work, saving work.

John Calvin said, ‘Now the ascension of Christ was soon afterwards followed by a wonderful conversion of the world, in which the divinity of Christ was more powerfully displayed than while he dwelt among men. Thus, we see that the proof of his divinity was not confined to the person of Christ, but was diffused through the whole body of the church’ (Commentary on the Gospel of John; Ages CD-ROM Christian library series; volume 7: John Calvin collection).

When the ascended Christ was raised to be seated at the Father’s right hand, he demonstrated his power from heaven and, through his apostles, performed exceptional works: ‘I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in me through their word’ (John 17:20).

But the concept of greater works does not today need to be accompanied with miraculous signs, for these were specifically signs of Jesus Christ’s messianic office, and the apostles’ validity as founders of the universal church (Ephesians 2:20) (see Walter J. Chantry, The signs of the apostles; Banner of Truth).

Christ’s authority

Second, asking ‘in my name’ claims Christ’s authority: ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you’ (John 15:16).

God’s people are his ambassadors, as well as his servants. What dignity before God we possess, what privileges we have, what glory we share! ‘Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God’ (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Ambassadors are chosen personally by the king. To hold high office, they must be loyal to their sovereign; they must be ready to speak in his name and speak his words. They speak with their sovereign’s backing and full authority. So it is with God’s people. They are chosen and appointed by Christ to bear fruit, both spiritual and numerical. This is God’s eternal choice, in great mercy and grace to undeserving sinners.

The Lord testified that he knew Jeremiah before he was in his mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5), though he called him to the prophetic office at the proper and appointed time (15:16). It is all of free grace.  When God calls us to himself, he holds Christ Jesus out to us as the one and only mediator. We are to pray to God, but only through the Son. The promise of fruitful labour from Jesus encourages, yes, compels us to call upon God, because the success of our work depends on answered prayer. 

Christ’s action

Third, asking ‘in my name’ calls for Christ’s action: ‘Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full’ (John 16:24). Christ revealed to his disciples that they would be severely tried by his coming arrest and crucifixion: ‘Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament’ (16:20). However, this would be short lived, despite the ungodly world rejoicing in their pain, for, ‘you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy’ (16:20).

Today Christians still gain joy from their unshaken hope in Christ’s promises, as they respond in faith to them, because they can draw freely from God’s grace, seeking it through prayer in their time of need (Hebrews 4:16). Asking in Christ Jesus’ name is to request God to answer as if the request were made directly by his only begotten Son Jesus Christ (cf. John 11:42a).

There is nothing too hard for God. Nothing is impossible for him who made the cosmos in six days and raised Christ from the dead on the third day. Our Father in heaven is willing to do ‘exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think’ (Ephesians 3:20). His abundant blessings include a renewal of spiritual joy. ‘Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full’ (John 16:24).

Here, our Saviour is telling us that answered prayer brings joy to the soul. Joy-less Christians are prayer-less Christians, but praying well brings fulness of joy. This word ‘full’ (Greek, plerow) speaks of that which is complete (filled so that nothing is wanting; filled to the brim). Christians gain renewed joy from their unshaken hope in God’s precious promises. This joy will be theirs permanently, in fulness, at Christ’s second coming when they see him face to face (John 16:22b).

Conclusion

Our Saviour in his Last Supper discourse emphasises three times the need for us to conclude our prayers ‘in my name’. Such repetition shows it is vital that we take note and obey.

Calvin said, ‘But we ought to attend to the frequent repetition of this clause that we must pray in the name of Christ. We are said to pray in the name of Christ when we take him as our advocate, to reconcile us, and make us find favour with his Father’.

The good works of God’s people are to be covered in prayer and sealed ‘in my [Jesus] name’ in order to bring glory to the Father (14:13). The Father and the Son work together and are glorified by each other (John 17:4-5). To work for our Saviour day by day is to act for him by faith through love. Can we see what we miss if God’s people neglect prayer and fail to pray in faith, nothing doubting?

We will share in his joy when we pray ‘in [Christ’s] name’, and thereby continue his activity, claim his authority and call for his action. The believer’s joy will be experienced through sanctified, loving and believing prayer.

‘Jesus, by whom we come to God,
The life, the truth, the way.
The humble path of prayer you trod:
Lord, teach us how to pray.’
(James Montgomery)

The author is a retired FIEC pastor, the writer of several books, including, Opening up Job (Day One), and a member of Hoylake Evangelical Church, Wirral